Ryan Saunders

Timberwolves Notes: Towns, Saunders, Russell, Vanterpool

Amid the turmoil of a mid-season coaching change, the Timberwolves got some good news Sunday night as star center Karl-Anthony Towns indicated he foresees a long future with the organization, writes Chris Hine of The Star Tribune. Towns was asked about his intentions following a loss to the Knicks that dropped Minnesota’s record to a league-worst 7-24.

“If you want to build a legacy we got to win,” Towns said. “And I want to build my legacy here so I want to win with the Wolves, and I’m going to do everything I possibly can to keep step-by-step, brick-by-brick, building something and a culture here that’s going to stand here for a long time.”

Towns, 25, still has three more years on the extension he signed in 2018, paying him $31.65MM, $33.83MM and $36MM through the 2023/24 season. He could opt to demand a trade, as other stars have done in losing situations, but Sunday’s comments should offer some hope to the Wolves that he’s committed to turning things around in Minnesota.

There’s more on the Timberwolves:

  • Ryan Saunders knew for weeks that his job was in jeopardy, according to Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic. Players had been openly speculating about a coaching change, and the only question was whether management would keep him in place through the end of the season. Owner Glen Taylor had resisted the move because Towns was out of the lineup so much this season due to injuries and a battle with COVID-19. However, Minnesota was just 1-7 since Towns returned February 10, which was enough for Taylor to endorse firing Saunders.
  • Obvious tension built up between guard D’Angelo Russell and Saunders as losses mounted, Krawczynski adds in the same story. A long-time friend of Towns, Russell was brought in at last year’s trade deadline to provide a second star for the team to build around. However, because of injuries and the hiatus, Saunders only got to coach Towns and Russell together in five games.
  • Several NBA players questioned why Timberwolves associate head coach David Vanterpool wasn’t chosen to replace Saunders, with the loudest support for the former Trail Blazers assistant coming from Portland stars Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, notes Jamie Hudson of NBC Sports. “How the hell do you not hire David Vanterpool,” Lillard tweeted, “and he’s right there on the bench… and has been in front office SUCCESSFULLY and on the front of a bench of a winning team SUCCESSFULLY (7 years) … and also has played a major role in the development of a dominant backcourt smdh!” According to Krawczynski, there has been speculation throughout the league that Chris Finch has been on top of president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas‘ wish list since he joined the Wolves two years ago, and Rosas was willing to endure criticism over not considering a minority candidate such as Vanterpool.

Timberwolves Fire Ryan Saunders, Hire Chris Finch

9:35am: Minnesota has officially announced Finch as its new head coach.

“I would like to thank Glen Taylor and Gersson Rosas for this incredible opportunity to be the head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves,” Finch said. “I look forward to working hand and hand with Gersson to build and lead a team that Timberwolves fans will be proud of. We have excellent pieces in place and I can’t wait to get to work.”


5:43am: The Timberwolves have parted ways with head coach Ryan Saunders, the team announced in a press release late on Sunday night. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski first reported Saunders’ dismissal.

“We would like to thank Ryan for his time and commitment to the Timberwolves organization and wish him the best in the future,” Wolves president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas said in a statement. “These are difficult decisions to make, however this change is in the best interest of the organization’s short and long-term goals.”

According to Shams Charania of The Athletic and Wojnarowski, Minnesota already has a replacement lined up for Saunders, having reached a deal to hire Raptors assistant Chris Finch. The two sides are finalizing a multiyear contract that will make him the Wolves’ permanent head coach rather than an interim replacement.

Saunders, who took the reins on Minnesota’s sidelines following Tom Thibodeau‘s exit from the franchise in 2018/19, compiled a 43-94 (.314) record across parts of three seasons with the team. Those Wolves clubs were plagued by injuries, with franchise center Karl-Anthony Towns missing 54 of Saunders’ 137 games with the team, but underperformed even when healthy, finishing 14th in the West a year ago and ranking last in the conference so far this year.

Finch, meanwhile, has interviewed for multiple head coaching jobs in recent years, but will be getting an opportunity to run his own NBA team for the first time. He did have a stint as a G League head coach with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers from 2009-11 and won an NBAGL title with the club before becoming an assistant for the Rockets from 2011-16. Rosas was part of Houston’s front office during that time, giving him a familiarity with Finch.

Since leaving the Rockets, Finch has been an associate head coach for the Nuggets (2016-17), Pelicans (2017-20), and Raptors (2020-21). He has a reputation of improving teams’ offenses, as Blake Murphy of The Athletic observes.

According to Wojnarowski, Finch is expected to officially begin the job on Tuesday when the Wolves play the Bucks in Milwaukee, and is expected to keep the team’s coaching staff intact for the time being. That staff includes associate head coach David Vanterpool and assistants Bryan Gates and Pablo Prigioni, Woj notes.

Hiring another team’s assistant coach after making an in-season coaching change is fairly unusual for an NBA team, according to Wojnarowski, who says it hasn’t happened since Memphis hired Lionel Hollins away from Milwaukee in 2009. Murphy suggests (via Twitter) that Toronto is probably more likely to promote a coach from the Raptors 905 once the G League season ends than to bring in someone from outside the organization to replace Finch on Nick Nurse‘s staff.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Northwest Notes: Towns, Saunders, Russell, Elleby, Daigneault

Karl-Anthony Towns‘ return to action remains up in the air, Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic tweets. The Timberwolves star has been sidelined since testing positive for COVID-19 in mid-January. Minnesota coach Ryan Saunders said Towns has been working out with the team on the road as he tries to get back into playing shape. He hasn’t played since January 13.

We have more from the Northwest Division:

  • The Timberwolves had lost eight of 10 games without Towns entering Friday’s action, and D’Angelo Russell and Saunders don’t seem to be on the same page when the team attempts to close out games, Krawczynski notes. It takes time for a coach and a point guard to build trust, and they are working on that process right now, Krawczynski adds. Saunders is also struggling to maximize the backcourt combination of Russell and natural point guard Ricky Rubio.
  • Trail Blazers rookie CJ Elleby impressed coach Terry Stotts with his overall production when injuries thrust Elleby into the rotation on Thursday, Jason Quick of The Athletic writes. The 46th pick of the draft, Elleby had 15 points, seven rebounds and two blocks in 31 minutes. “He asserted himself into the game rather than just watching others play,” Stotts said.
  • Thunder coach Mark Daigneault likes the makeshift format of playing the same opponent in back-to-back games this season, Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman writes. “In the NBA schedule, you run into something that bothers you and you end up chasing your shadow but you’ve got a different opponent coming around the corner,” Daigneault said. “And so it’s hard to really spend too much time reflecting on the last game because you’ve got to turn the page. The series allow you to do both.”

Wolves Owner Says Ryan Saunders’ Job Is Safe

The Timberwolves aren’t considering a coaching change despite a frustrating start to the season, team owner Glen Taylor tells Charley Walters of The St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Minnesota is last in the Western Conference with a 3-11 record, second only to the Pistons for the worst mark in the league. However, Taylor doesn’t want to assess head coach Ryan Saunders‘ performance until the team has more time with Karl-Anthony Towns, who has missed 10 games because of a wrist injury and COVID-19. The Wolves are 1-9 without Towns.

“I haven’t even talked to (president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas) about that — he hasn’t brought it up,” Taylor said of a possible coaching change, “but you’re asking me, and it’s probably hard to tell a guy that you aren’t doing the job when your best guy isn’t playing.”

Taylor admits being disappointed with the way his team has played so far. Minnesota was expecting to be more competitive with Towns and D’Angelo Russell leading the franchise. The addition of top draft pick Anthony Edwards and an offseason deal for Ricky Rubio sparked hopes that the Wolves might be able to contend for at least a play-in spot.

“The team hasn’t done as well as I think anybody anticipated,” Taylor said. “We lost some games we thought we could win. Probably a couple of the young guys are doing better than we anticipated, and that’s good. But overall, you’ve got to win. Karl being out really hurts, because we just have no flow going yet.”

Taylor also commented on the lack of movement on a potential sale of the Wolves and the Lynx of the WNBA. He is reportedly seeking $1.5 billion for both teams.

“I haven’t found anything that for sure says I should move ahead,” Taylor said. “… The other question: Is now a good time to sell when you don’t have fans? And it’s not a good time.”

Northwest Notes: Porter Jr., Horford, Jerome, Krejci, Saunders

Michael Porter Jr. missed his 10th consecutive game on Tuesday due to the league’s health and safety protocols but he could join the Nuggets on their five-game road trip that begins Friday in Phoenix, according to an Associated Press report. Porter hasn’t played since he racked up 30 points and 10 rebounds against Sacramento on December 29. “He’s a big part of what we’re trying to do here,”  coach Michael Malone said. “When we do get him back, he will be a welcome sight.”

We have more from the Northwest Division:

  • Al Horford and Ty Jerome did not travel with the Thunder at the start of their road trip this week, Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman writes. Horford’s wife just gave birth to their fourth child and it’s uncertain if Horford will rejoin the team during the trip. Jerome, who was acquired from Phoenix as a throw-in to the Chris Paul deal, has yet to make his Oklahoma City debut. He’s rehabbing from a left ankle sprain.
  • The Thunder’s second-round pick, Vit Krejci, will be stashed on the roster of their G League affiliate, the Oklahoma City Blue, Mussatto tweets. Krejci is rehabbing from an ACL injury that he suffered in September.
  • Ryan Saunders deserves more time to get the Timberwolves righted, Jim Souhan of The Minneapolis Star Tribune opines. The current roster doesn’t seem capable of competing without a healthy Karl-Anthony Towns and the young coach should be given a chance to show what he can do when Towns returns after testing positive for COVID-19. Towns had a wrist injury earlier in the season and has only appeared in four games.

Northwest Notes: Saunders, Nuggets, Pokusevski, Wolves

Timberwolves coach Ryan Saunders sought advice from workers in other professional sports leagues about how to operate during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Chris Hine of the Star Tribune.

Saunders spoke with Twins manager Rocco Baldelli and Browns coach Kevin Stefanski — both of whom are in leagues that have already started to navigate through COVID-19 — to ask for advice on how to conduct meetings and adapt while following league protocols.

“We did a number of Zooms during the hiatus, during the pandemic, just to hear about best practices and how they were going to attack the protocols and what they were doing to do things the right way…” Saunders said. “Kevin, he was a big help as well talking about how they actually have done installs [of systems] over video conference.”

Saunders, 34, is the youngest head coach in the league. He was promoted by the team in May and is known for doing his homework and due-diligence, something other teams could learn from as they navigate the uncharted waters of playing through a pandemic.

Here are some other notes from the Northwest Division:

  • Kendra Andrews of The Athletic examines several notes related to the Nuggets, including the team’s rotation without Will Barton. Barton missed the team’s first preseason game on Saturday due to ‘back/knee injury recovery,’ according to Andrews, after also missing portions of the team’s live scrimmages last week. Denver is coming off a trip to the Western Conference Finals, accruing an impressive 46-27 record during the regular season.
  • Thunder rookie Aleksej Pokusevski is drawing from his previous experience in Greece to help him transition to the NBA, Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman writes. Pokusevski, a seven-footer, was drafted No. 17 overall last month at just 18 years old. “It’s a bigger level, but it’s pretty [much] the same,” Pokusevski said of his situation. “Here I’m alone by myself right now, but I have experience about that. Listen to everyone. Listen, listen, listen and just learn, and everything’s going to be OK.”
  • John Hollinger of The Athletic examines the Timberwolves‘ season outlook, exploring the team’s rotation, projection and more. Minnesota sports a young nucleus of D’Angelo Russell, Anthony Edwards, and Karl-Anthony Towns, among others, and will seek a playoff berth in the Western Conference this coming season.

Timberwolves Notes: Chemistry, Beasley, Rosas, Saunders

Timberwolves coach Ryan Saunders believes the team built chemistry and relationships during their mini-camp, according to Chris Hine of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

“Our No. 1 goal within this week was to compete,” Saunders said. “Because it’s been a really long time since they’ve been able to do that in more of a structured setting. Then we also wanted to connect with this group. While you’re connecting, you also want to be able to build relationships. We talked about it where the team that is the most connected … will get a jump start on next season whenever next season starts.”

We have more on the Timberwolves:

  • Team president Gersson Rosas offered support for restricted free agent Malik Beasley, who was recently arrested for narcotics possession and possession of a stolen gun, Hine writes in a separate story. Rosas has said he wants to re-sign Beasley, who was acquired from the Nuggets in February. “He’s family. We’re going to support him,” Rosas said. “We’re going to do the best that we can. But he’s got some things he’s got to take care of. The legal process has some things that have to be processed and we’ll go from there, but we’re a family and we work through things together.”
  • Rosas has formed a strong bond with Saunders because they share the same vision for the franchise, according to Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic“When you have a big-picture perspective and you understand that you’re trying to reset a program, you have to have that perspective in place. I’ve talked about it and I’m fortunate I have a head coach that values the same thing,” Rosas said. “We don’t want sacrifices for the sake of incremental wins. That does nothing for us in the long term.”
  • What are the biggest questions surrounding the team this offseason? We took a closer look in our Offseason Preview.

Timberwolves Notes: Roster, Draft Picks, Saunders

It has been one year since Timberwolves president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas was hired by the team. In those 12 months, Rosas has overhauled the roster to the point that only two players who were under contract when he joined the franchise – Karl-Anthony Towns and Josh Okogie – are still with the Wolves today.

“Building an organization, building a foundation, the DNA and the values of who we’re going to be, I feel like we’ve done that in a very tangible way after year one,” Rosas said in a phone interview, per Chris Hine of The Star Tribune. “Roster-wise, our front office staff deserves a ton of credit because as we sit here, we’ve changed over 13 out of 15 roster spots. … That typically takes organizations two to three years. That we were able to do it by the trade deadline was quite an achievement for our staff.”

Many of Minnesota’s roster changes occurred at this year’s trade deadline. And the fact that the Wolves were able to acquire D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley, and Juan Hernangomez at that point means that the club may not have to be as active in the offseason. As Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic writes, that could be a good thing, given the coronavirus-related uncertainty surrounding this year’s free agent period.

“We don’t have all of our pieces,” Rosas said. “But we have a large majority of our pieces in places where we can push development, philosophy and culture to a group of players that are going to represent this organization for hopefully a long period of time.”

Here’s more from Rosas on the Wolves:

  • Rosas didn’t dismiss the possibility that more roster changes could be on the way, even after the makeover that has taken place over the last year. “I yearn for the days when we can have continuity and we can keep the group together and we can grow together,” he said, according to Krawczynski. “That means we’re winning and we’re in contention and we’re in the last phase of a championship team. But until we get to that, there’s going to be change.”
  • Rosas, who spoke over the weekend about the likelihood of the Timberwolves having three of the top 33 selections in this year’s draft, didn’t rule out the idea of using one or more of those picks in trades, as Hine relays. “(It’s an) opportunity to continue to build out the roster, whether it’s young players you continue to add to our talent base, or using those picks in trades to acquire players that may be more ready to help us now,” Rosas said. “It puts us in a very strong position.”
  • Many new heads of basketball operations choose to put their own stamps on teams by bringing in a new head coach. However, as Krawczynski details, Rosas concluded last spring after a brief search that Ryan Saunders was the right man for the job. “I can’t say enough about Ryan in terms of not only his fit because of the philosophy, but his fit in terms of the type of person he is,” Rosas said. “We share a lot of values. We share a lot of perspectives and vision of how we want an organization to be run.”
  • Rosas also recently discussed Minnesota’s desire to re-sign both Beasley and Hernangomez in restricted free agency this offseason.

Northwest Notes: Timberwolves, Presti, Jazz

Given how much turnover the Timberwolves‘ roster has undergone in recent months, the hiatus has at least provided president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas and head coach Ryan Saunders with an opportunity to pause and get familiar with their current players, as Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic writes.

“We’ve gotten to know our guys better than we had a month ago,” Rosas said. “Anything and everything that matters to them we’re trying to understand and we’re trying to build a commitment, we’re trying to build a community based on who individuals are and what they’re going through right now.”

According to Krawczynski, Saunders has made an effort to directly engage with his players since the hiatus began, reaching out to talk to them about their families and about basketball, and sending the message that the team cares about their well-being. As Krawczynski notes, it’s a part of the job that Saunders excels at and one that is more necessary than ever during this time.

Here’s more from around the Northwest:

  • Dealing with Jordan Clarkson‘s free agency, working out an extension for Donovan Mitchell, and figuring out a good use for their mid-level exception will be among the top items on the Jazz‘s to-do list this offseason, writes Tony Jones of The Athletic.
  • Ryan Novozinsky of Daily Thunder makes the case that Thunder general manager Sam Presti deserves to win 2020’s Executive of the Year award, arguing that the GM’s “magic” is the reason why Oklahoma City was a playoff team this season while also setting itself up well for years to come.
  • In case you missed it, a pair of general managers for Northwest teams – Arturas Karnisovas (Nuggets) and Justin Zanik (Jazz) – have interviewed for a top basketball operations position in the Bulls’ front office. Karnisovas is viewed as the current frontrunner. (Update: The Bulls are finalizing a deal to hire Karnisovas).

Timberwolves Owner Talks Saunders, D-Lo, Wiggins

Although Timberwolves president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas is responsible for making roster decisions in Minnesota, any trade requires the approval of owner Glen Taylor. As such, Taylor was very involved in basketball decisions at this year’s trade deadline, when the Wolves traded away half their roster in a series of major deals.

In a conversation with Sid Hartman of The Star Tribune, Taylor said that he and Rosas “talk quite often” and that the team had spent much of the season preparing for moves like the one that sent Robert Covington to Houston and especially the one that saw D’Angelo Russell land in Minnesota.

Taylor said he’s “excited” to have acquired so many promising young players that are in the same age range as Karl-Anthony Towns, suggesting that the team’s hope is for those players to continue to improve and grow together.

Taylor’s conversation with Hartman included a handful of other noteworthy comments, including the Wolves owner’s thoughts on head coach Ryan Saunders‘ job security, trading former No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins, and more. Here are a few of the highlights:

On whether he has considered replacing Saunders during the Timberwolves’ current 6-29 stretch:

“No, no, no, he is hired. A young guy and he is going to get better as time goes on and we just have to give him that time.

“[Saunders] is excited about this change that now he has guys that can play the kind of basketball he wants. He is really a believer in the three-point shot, moving the ball fast, and getting up and down the court. He needed some players that were better three-point shooters than what we had previously.”

On the front office continuing to push for Russell after completing its Covington trade:

“They kept working on Russell, that was the main thing that they wanted to accomplish. They were able to do that and get two young guys out of Denver (Malik Beasley and Juan Hernangomez) that were part of our hopes for the future. It just dragged on — these things are difficult — almost to the last few hours before everything fell into place. But it was very interesting to me that normally if part of this would have fell into place, we would have been happy. But in this particular case, everything went our way. We think we have helped our team and we have probably helped some other teams. It is probably a win-win.”

On Wiggins becoming easier to move this season than he was last summer:

“I don’t think there was any secret to that. Andrew worked really hard. He didn’t have the best year last year, and we worked really hard with him this summer to improve and I think we saw some improvements. That allowed us to have the chance to make a trade this year where last year I don’t think it was there with any team.”

“… I think [Warriors head coach] Steve Kerr said it exactly right, this should be a win-win. Us getting Russell should really help us and them getting Wiggins on their team should really help them. Wiggins won’t be expected to be the main scorer. He can fit in with their team. I’m hopeful it works out for him, and I’m confident it will work out with Russell on our team.”